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Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Writer/Curator/Founder of The Autism Acceptance Project. Contributing Author to Between Interruptions: Thirty Women Tell the Truth About Motherhood, and Concepts of Normality by Wendy Lawson, and soon to be published Gravity Pulls You In. Writing my own book. Lecturer on autism and the media and parenting. Current graduate student Critical Disability Studies and most importantly, mother of Adam -- a new and emerging writer.

“There is no hope unmingled with fear, and no fear unmingled with hope.” -- Baruch Spinoza

Saturday, March 24, 2007


Life, Language and Lessons

lan·guage (lăng'gwĭj)

Communication of thoughts and feelings through a system of arbitrary signals, such as voice sounds, gestures, or written symbols.
Such a system including its rules for combining its components, such as words.
Such a system as used by a nation, people, or other distinct community; often contrasted with dialect.

A system of signs, symbols, gestures, or rules used in communicating: the language of algebra.
Computer Science. A system of symbols and rules used for communication with or between computers.
Body language; kinesics.
The special vocabulary and usages of a scientific, professional, or other group: “his total mastery of screen language—camera placement, editing—and his handling of actors” (Jack Kroll).
A characteristic style of speech or writing: Shakespearean language.
A particular manner of expression: profane language; persuasive language.
The manner or means of communication between living creatures other than humans: the language of dolphins.
Verbal communication as a subject of study.
The wording of a legal document or statute as distinct from the spirit.

As usual, I'm thinking about language and literacy these days and we continue our efforts to assist with Adam's computing and literacy in order that he be able to type more proficiently (or talk) when he's older. Looking at that definition above, Adam does share a language with myself and others, even though he's not yet fully verbal. There are indeed many legitimate ways to communicate -- all we have to do is watch and listen.

I've been asked to lecture at MIT this May for the Autism and Technology course. For certain, Adam's expression of understanding so many things is often first manifested on the computer. A multi-dimensional environment works best for him: text, visuals, computers, real-time experience in a variety of formats. This is how comprehension comes together. It's delightful watching that "a ha" moment in Adam, like I've seen this before and I know what it's about kind of interest. I can see him beam with pride -- and he doesn't need me to say "good job," either. It's a pride that is self-derived. I need not contrive an external reinforcement because he knows when he's done something he takes pride in -- he understands accomplishment. (I do, however, tell him everyday that I'm very proud of him).

Adam began to talk more this week. He has been trying to say sentences that come out like Baby Mo--ar-a-ar-a-ar. That means Mozart. He is referring to the Baby Mozart video he likes to watch. Or "I wa chic-a-bewm-bewm," with such determination. That means Chica Chica Boom Boom, by the way. Everything is coming out in two and three string syllabic sounds. I find his language development wonderful to experience. Every time I try to teach him too fast too soon, I can tell I'm teaching as I would a typical child. I need to break stories down. First the words with the picture, then building simple sentences. I have tried asking questions on sheet of paper like this:

My name is Adam. I am a _________________.

Boy----------------------------- Girl

I give him a pen and he crosses off the correct answer. I'm trying with more complicated questions than this too.

I also am finding that if I'm teaching him pre-academic skills, they are better taught first on the computer. He has learned to sequence, match, match words to pictures and so much more on the computer first. Now I'm beginning with stories and comprehension there. Then, it becomes easier to transfer that skill onto the "floor." We are still playing around with conversations on the computer. He happily participates by sitting on my lap, but I must facilitate the answers on his behalf, as the art of this kind of typical conversation is a skill that requires time. It is rather nice to be trying this together on the computer.

The more I can get for the computer that I can transfer off, it seems, the better. I found stories that read and show the lines as it goes at a library site. I use the hyperlexia kit for building sentences, and that seems to be working well too. He's having a good time using Cheaptalk 8 -- he can already say the word (request) but I find it useful for recording whole sentences. The visual, the act of pressing the button and my encouraging him to try saying the whole sentence is a means he seems to enjoy. He can say the whole sentence when I ask him to try most of the time.

We've been busy as usual around here, but it's always exciting to see Adam develop on his own. He challenges me to try new ways to teach (and his learning is always evolving), play and interact with him. He plays great games like "under the blanket" where he likes to hole up with me (and others) and smile at you in the dark while he wriggles his body with joy.

This morning, Adam and I took a little break and spent Saturday morning lounging in on an early spring morning adorned with showers. Thanks to my friends who support us, and who remind me to take a little time. It's something that every parent needs to do once in a while, because we all try to do so much. I can't wait for the spring flowers and to walk barefoot in the grass. It is important to remember to do it with our kids.

Thanks also to Christschool for this, who seems to be thinking about the same things and speaking the same language:


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